Panna cotta recipe is an easy make-ahead Valentine's Day dessert for two. Since it serves two people, it is great to make the day before. Panna cotta is similar to pudding, but slightly more firm. It is technically cooked cream set with gelatin, and it couldn't be easier to make.
This is the Best Panna Cotta Recipe!
If you've never made a panna cotta recipe before, I'm here to tell you just how easy it is! If you've really never had panna cotta before, I'm here to tell you that it's like an elevated form of pudding.
This dessert tastes like strawberries and cream, and is one of my favorite summer desserts. This is a lighter version of my Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes, which I think you might like!
What is Panna Cotta?
Panna cotta is something that I only ordered at restaurants for the longest time. I first enjoyed it at a restaurant in Sacramento, where it was always served with an ever-changing seasonal fruit compote on top. The silky, creamy base is a perfect foil for any type of fruit. Today, we're using strawberries but a mango panna cotta would be delicious.
Panna cotta is essentially a sweet milk and cream mixture thickened and set with gelatin. If you're wondering how panna cotta and pudding are different, it's that panna cotta is ever so slightly thicker. Pudding doesn't hold its shape, though it is firm. Panna cotta can technically be molded into a shape and then dumped out to serve. See the photos in the post for reference.
There's a coconut panna cotta recipe in my third cookbook Sweet & Simple: Dessert for Two that is completely dairy-free, if you're looking for that option. My friend Sherrie featured it on her site when my book was first released!
Panna Cotta Recipe for two
I happen to think this panna cotta recipe perfectly portioned for two would be a great Valentine's Day dessert for two! If you like to stay in for Valentine's Day, check out my Romantic Meals for Two at home or my Chicken Dinners for Two, and follow it up with one of my desserts.
However, if this panna cotta for two doesn't speak to you, I have a whole Valentine's Day Easy Romantic Desserts for Two recipe roundup; I know you can find something you love on there!
If you make any of my recipes for your special someone on the big day, please let me know! I would love to hear about it. If a marriage proposal results from any of my recipes, then I definitely need to know about that! To be honest, the easiest way to contact me is instagram.
Vanilla Panna Cotta Ingredients
- Milk. Any type of milk works great here, from 1% to whole milk. I typically use a ½ cup of 2% milk.
- Heavy Cream. This recipe needs double whipping cream, also called heavy cream; ¾ cup.
- Powdered Gelatin. This recipe works with powdered gelatin, and please know that I have not tested it with sheet gelatin.
- Granulated Sugar. This dessert serves two, so it only requires 3 tablespoons of sugar.
- Vanilla Extract. Since this panna cotta recipe has such few ingredients, try to use high-quality vanilla extract. The flavor really shines here.
- Fresh Strawberries. For a strawberry topping, combine ½ cup of sliced fresh strawberries with one tablespoon of sugar. Let marinate for about 30-60 minutes, until they soften. Just before serving, stir in a small splash of vanilla extract. Spoon on top of the panna cotta and serve immediately.
How to make Panna Cotta
First, add the milk to a small sauce pan, but do not turn on the heat yet. Sprinkle the gelatin over the milk and let it sit. This is called 'blooming the gelatin' and makes sure each grain of gelatin soaks up some liquid; it also prevents clumps!
After 5 minutes, now it's time to turn on the heat. Cook the milk and gelatin over a medium-low heat, just until the gelatin dissolves. It's very important not to let the milk mixture boil at all. Stir constantly and never walk away.
Finally, add the heavy cream and sugar, and continue to heat for about 5 minutes on the heat. This just warms the cream and makes sure the sugar dissolves completely.
Now it's time to turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla. I never add vanilla over the heat because I don't want to cook out its delicate flavor.
Pour the mixture into two serving cups, and chill for at least 4 hours, or up to 48 hours, in the fridge. Wrap the top tightly with plastic wrap to prevent any odors seeping into the very permeable cream and milk.
An hour before serving, marinate your fruit of choice and then serve the panna cotta ice cold with the fruit spooned on top.
Tips for cooking with gelatin:
Are you afraid of cooking with gelatin? I hear you, because it can be intimidating. There's good news, though--the first step in my recipe below eliminates any risk of working with gelatin. We're going to bloom the gelatin, or soak it in a small amount of liquid before combining it with the rest of the liquid. When we bloom or prove the gelatin, we're guaranteed to have perfect results in the end. Blooming gelatin prevents any chance for lumps, and also ensures the mixture will set properly. I talk a little later about things that could prevent a panna cotta from setting. But, if you follow my recipe exactly, you will have a smooth, silky creamy dessert that is one step up from pudding.
How to serve this Recipe for Panna Cotta
Panna cotta is a sweet, smooth milky pudding on its own, but it really shines when it’s served with a spoonful of fresh fruit on top. Make the fruit topping a few hours before serving. Dice any seasonal fresh, ripe fruit (except for pineapple*) into a bowl, and toss with a bit of sugar and lemon juice. To serve, place a Panna Cotta on each plate and top with the fruit. If you brush your glass jars with a bit of oil, you can even un-mold the Panna Cotta onto a plate to serve. (Fresh pineapple contains enzymes that break down gelatin, so do not use it as a topping here).
Panna cotta fruit toppings to consider:
- Peaches with a very small amount of amaretto (an almond liquor).
- You can poach apricots in in a bit of lavender honey tea for a delicious topping.
- Strawberries with Grand Marnier is a classic fruit topping.
- Blackberries with a fresh lime juice and sugar.
- Raspberries mixed with a small splash of Framboise (raspberry liquor).
- Mango pieces with a splash of coconut rum is delicious here!
The only fruit I wouldn't suggest is pineapple, because the enzymes in pineapple prevent gelatin from setting, and if you top this panna cotta recipe with pineapple, it will start to break down the perfectly set custard. There's a reason pineapple jello doesn't exist, my friends! Here's a very scientific article explaining that you could use canned pineapple, just not fresh pineapple, ok?
Easy Panna Cotta Recipe storage
This dessert needs to be stored in the fridge because it contains dairy. It also tastes best when served chilled. It will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days, tightly wrapped. Do not freeze.
Panna Cotta Recipe FAQs
Panna cotta tastes like a soft, milky pudding that has a firmer texture than pudding. It holds its shape when scooped, but melts in your mouth. It has a sweet, vanilla flavor, almost like ice cream but softer. It takes on the flavors of the fruit you serve it with.
Technically, Panna cotta is a cooked pudding that is set with gelatin. A pudding is much softer in texture than a custard. Also, custards contain eggs or egg yolks, while Panna cotta does not.
Panna Cotta literally means ‘cooked cream’ in Italian.
For the panna cotta:
- ½ cup milk (I use 2%)
- ¾ cup heavy cream (double cream)
- 1 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
For the strawberries:
- ½ cup sliced fresh strawberries
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- First, make the panna cotta: In a small saucepan add the milk. Sprinkle the gelatin on top and let it sit for 5 minutes.
- Turn the heat to medium and cook while stirring until the gelatin dissolves. Do not let the milk boil. This should take about 3-5 minutes.
- Add the heavy cream and sugar to the milk and continue cooking while stirring for another 3-5 minutes.
- Once the sugar is dissolved, turn off the heat. Stir in the vanilla. Divide the mixture between two serving dishes. I prefer small wine glasses. Chill the mixture for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- An hour before serving, make the strawberry topping by combining them with the sugar in a small bowl. Let sit at room temperature. To serve, scoop the berries on top of the panna cottta and serve immediately.
Milk: You can use anything from 1% to whole milk. I typically use 2% milk.
Heavy Cream. Heavy whipped cream is also called double cream.
Powdered Gelatin: Please note that I have not tested this recipe with the sheet gelatin; only powdered gelatin.
Other fruit toppings: Peaches + amaretto, apricots + lavender honey tea, strawberries + Grand Marnier, blackberries + lime, raspberries + Framboise, or mango + coconut rum. Use any fruit except fresh pineapple, since the enzymes can break down the gelatin.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 452Total Fat: 34gSaturated Fat: 21gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 106mgSodium: 56mgCarbohydrates: 34gFiber: 1gSugar: 33gProtein: 6g